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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service

Documentation Is Part of a Smart Marketing Strategy

Do you see documentation as an important marketing asset? Are you putting your documentation to work as a sales tool? If not, you may be leaving money on the table. (Click image for source and credits.)

In these difficult economic times, companies need all the strategic marketing assets and sales tools they can muster. Did you know that documentation can help you achieve several important marketing goals? Are you getting the most out of your documentation?

One of the strongest arguments for investing the proper amount of time and money to produce effective documentation—the kind that shows you understand your market and your customers—is that you will create several powerful marketing tools in one package.

Want to become a member of the “smart marketing” winners circle? Here are some of the top reasons why great product documentation can set your products and company apart from the crowd …

One, repeat business. Successful documentation helps your company get repeat business in a very economical way. As you know, converting prospects to customers requires a lot of work and money. Once you’ve made the sale – what then? If your customers are satisfied with the product and how it meets their needs, they are likely to buy from you again. Documentation that helps customers use your products and get the most out of them promotes repeat business.

This is low-hanging fruit, so don’t overlook the marketing value of great documentation. As a bonus, if you publish your documentation online, you can build out those pages to encourage even more customer interaction with your company.

Two, analytics. How do you know your documentation meets your customers’ needs? Are you really communicating everything your customers need to know about the product?

Build out your online documentation package to encourage customer feedback, so you can find out what customers really think about your product documentation, and how they use it. Enable comments so users can tell you what they think is missing, what they like, and more. Automated analytics tools can tally and rank page and topic views, for example, and also list referrers, search terms used to find topics, which links were clicked, and so on.

Documentation analytics just might turn out to be your best friend in the marketplace, providing unvarnished, honest feedback and market intelligence. You can use that information to correct weaknesses, build on strengths, make better decisions about product development, gain a competitive advantage—and, ultimately, generate more business.

Three, interactive customer engagement. Who said documentation has to be just static pages lurking on a company website, waiting for customers to drop by? That’s all well and good, of course, but why stop there?

If you know your customers and how they use your product, you can slice and dice your documentation into many different configurations, and push it out onto many devices in various formats.

You can also make your documentation more interactive. Beyond pages of text, figures, drawings and photos, why not add podcasts, videos and automatically updating fields to the mix? Consider a video-game format for a training document, for example. Interactivity keeps customers connected and learning; that can pay off on the bottom line.

Hankering for more information on interactivity? Then you might also like to read Does Your Company Use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)?

Too many companies still view documentation from a limited perspective and, therefore, leave business on the table. You already know documentation is critical for making your products usable and useful. It’s time to take the next step and realize its potential as a powerful, strategic marketing asset.

Talkback: Does your company view documentation as a marketing asset? Do you use documentation to develop and retain your customer base? If you use documentation as a marketing tool, has it helped increase your customer base and revenues? What documentation formats work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments—thanks!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Bookstore Nook

The bookstore, such a wonderful place for browsing, perusing and discovering books you want to read and add to your personal library. Brick-and-mortar bookstores may be in trouble, due to declining sales, but think about this: What will happen to online and ebook sales when customers can no longer linger among stacks of books, thumbing through pages, flitting from book to book, each more inviting and enticing than the last? Are online sales driven in (perhaps large) part by our ability to walk into a real bookstore and sample the wares? (Click image for credit and source)

How many wonderful books have you stumbled upon while browsing in your favorite bookstore?

Books you decided you couldn’t live without.

Books you would never have found if you hadn’t been able to roam and wander and poke about among the overflowing tables, bins, stacks, bookcases and displays.

Books that attracted your attention because of their cover, or a chapter title, or a blurb on the inside jacket flap.

Look around the aisles and alcoves and cozy nooks of your local bookstore. The books stand there, waiting for you, promising knowledge, entertainment, connection, enlightenment, pleasure and joy. A book is a journey.

As you look around, how many people do you see reading? Moving from one volume to another? Pausing to lean over and pluck from the stacks a book that has caught their eye?

And how many people do you see actually buying a book?

Cozy Bookstore Corner with Chair

A cozy corner in a bookstore invites reading. How many new books have you discovered in bookstores? Do you buy your books in the store, or online? Do you think it is fair to use bookstores only to shop, but then buy the books you want online? (Click image for credit and source)

The Borders bookstore chain declared bankruptcy recently and is now selling off its assets. In another few months it will shutter its stores for good.

Where once communities had easy access to books and a destination in which to meet and connect over new ideas and literary finds, there will be only empty shelves and dust.

Another outpost of civilization will have gone dark.

Kindle Ebook Reader

Do you buy print books and ebooks on the web? Do you shop for your books on the web as well, or do you go to a bookstore? (Click image for credit and source)

One reason Borders is closing its doors is that apparently more people were shoppers than buyers.

In the many reports I’ve read about Borders’ bankruptcy, one feature really jumped out at me: many of the staff and analysts interviewed said that for some time they had noticed a new pattern taking shape in the book-selling business: people shopped the bookstores, found what they wanted to buy, and then went online to make their purchases.

A number of shoppers who were interviewed admitted they were guilty of “mooching” – browsing at their bookstore, but then buying online.

Borders is one casualty of that trend.

Some trade analysts have speculated that online and ebook sales might actually decrease as a result of physical bookstores closing. Their thinking is that as more and more brick-and-mortar bookstores go out of business, people will have no place to browse and pick up a book to explore it.

Hmm, does this book appeal to me? Do I need to buy this and read it? Oh … maybe that one instead.

Many industry observers have opined that bookstores are the vehicle of book discovery, and that without thousands of actual books all around them and knowledgeable, professional staff ready to offer help and suggestions, most consumers will remain unaware of what is available in the literary marketplace.

What will that do to online and ebook sales of books?

Is there some way to develop a hybrid store that combines physical books, print-on-demand machines, and the on-site ability to buy ebooks (with the bookstore getting a commission on the sale price)?

Could those hybrid stores also offer multimedia viewing kiosks for titles that are only in ebook format?

As the publishing and book-selling business continues to transform, new models are emerging for getting books in many formats into the hands of readers.

We’re approaching a critical juncture, in my opinion, and this important topic deserves some serious thinking and entrepreneurial inventiveness.

What are your ideas for the bookstores of the future?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of consumers who shop bookstores, but buy online? Do you think brick-and-mortar bookstores will eventually disappear? Do you support your local independent and chain bookstores by actually purchasing books there? How do you feel about the closing of Borders? Join the conversation by leaving a comment – thanks!      Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis

Google Traffic Generation Trends Analysis - Video Ads vs. Social Marketing vs. Pay-Per-Click Ads vs. Search Engine-Optimization

It’s no secret that Google recently changed its search formulas.

Google’s intent was to decrease the occurrence of “content farms” in search results, because the farms were clogging the search rankings. Content farms tend to be heavy on ads, post information without much regard for quality, and often use text copied from other sources.

So good for Google! Time to stop rewarding the content farms.

Alas, however, Google’s modifications to its search algorithms also spawned some unintended (and negative) consequences for legitimate companies.

If you own or work at a small business with a web presence, then one or more of the accidental side effects may be giving you a real headache.

Recent articles on CNN Money and in the Wall Street Journal noted that, as a result of Google’s changes, many small businesses have seen dramatic declines in their web traffic and web-generated sales – think drops in sales of as much as 40 percent.

Wouldn’t that make you sit up and take notice? Thought so. As you might imagine, then, those businesses are now taking action.

Which brings us to the “silver lining in the cloud” part.

If you are a freelance writer, pay close attention here, because one tactic favored by those companies is to hire more freelance writers to customize copy.

You see, many of the affected companies sell lots and lots of different products. Formerly, they relied on the manufacturers’ product descriptions, meaning they basically just copied the text. The manufacturers certainly didn’t mind (it’s partly why they created the copy, after all), but that approach seems to have caused their sites to lose their place in Google’s rankings.

So rejoice, freelance writers. As Carol Tice says in her excellent post about this subject: “Google’s change is opening up a world of freelance writing opportunities.”

In addition to writing original product descriptions, companies also need copy for email marketing campaigns, customer Q&A, social media, direct customer communication and much more that will help each company distinguish itself from its competition.

Companies, although you’re going to suffer some short-term pain, in my opinion you have been handed a golden opportunity to make your businesses even more profitable and productive. You and your customers will eventually benefit enormously from what good freelance writers can bring to the table.

Remember, good communication is the heartbeat of a great business. (And better Google rankings.)

Bonus just for you: If you’d like to read more about substantive content and SEO, and why you should care, check out these recent posts:

Now it’s your turn: How do you present your products and services in an original, creative way? What keeps your customers coming back to your website and actually buying stuff? Writers, what do you think about the opportunities presented by Google’s changes? Please share your thoughts and keep the conversation going in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write ideas

Social Media and Static Documents

Have you thought about embedding live Twitter streams in your company's online documents? Do you think this could help you connect better with your customers?

Recently a colleague and I were talking about product promotion. As is so often the case in the world of business, the real issue was how to connect with customers on an ongoing basis and get them more involved with the product and the company. All successful companies are interested in that, because they want to encourage customer loyalty, get feedback on specific products and help build a word-of-mouth campaign about their products.

And what better way to accomplish those objectives than by engaging your customers in conversation?

This is where tweets come into the picture.

What if you decided to embed live Twitter streams in your company’s document pages and then invited your customers to become part of a lively exchange of opinions, feedback, suggestions and idea-sharing?

The more my colleague and I batted around ideas about this, the more I thought about the many ways a tweet stream could benefit everyone involved.

So I decided to poke around the Internet and see what I could find, since I was pretty certain that someone, somewhere, must have already experimented with such a useful tool.

As you might expect, there are companies out there which have already embedded live Twitter streams in their documents. I found a really nice example at ffeathers, a technical writer’s blog written by Sarah Maddox. In her post on embedding Twitter streams in documents, she describes how she integrated Twitter into some of her company’s online documentation.

Although Sarah’s post concerns technical documentation, what she has to say could be applied to all sorts of online business and technology documents: imagine brochures, books, white papers, instruction manuals, marketing documents … and the list goes on.

I think the fusion of dynamic social media like Twitter with more static pages like company documents could usher in a wholly new way of interacting with customers.

Why not offer your customers the immediate gratification of expressing themselves directly to you about your products and services? Why not take advantage of this tool to keep a closer eye on the marketplace? There are so many possibilities …

Now let’s talk: Do you use embedded live Twitter streams in your company’s online documents? Do you use other social media to keep in touch with your customers? If so, what are the results? We’re all ears, so please let us know! And thanks for leaving your comments. Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

 

Does Your Documentation Satisfy or Perplex Your Customers?

Does Your Documentation Satisfy or Perplex Your Customers? (Click the image to see credits and source.)

 

Does your company’s documentation provide excellent customer service, cut down on the costs of customer support (those call-center calls are not cheap) and help bring in qualified leads?

Is your documentation just a cost center or a smart investment that helps drive revenues?

Does your documentation help you win repeat business and attract new customers?

Really great product and services documentation can (and should) be an important part of your company’s business strategy. If you’ve always thought of documentation as just something you had to do, because every other company does, well, you’re missing out on a powerful tool that can help you lower costs and increase revenue.

What Makes Quality Documentation?

While quality documentation has many characteristics, the net-net result is that it provides a superior experience when your prospects and customers interact with your products and services. That, in turn, happens when the documentation makes it easy (and maybe even interesting and perhaps—gasp!—fun) for a prospect or a customer to find information they want, to learn what they need to know, or to solve a problem.

Put another way, it’s all about developing productive and valuable relationships with your audiences. And documentation is at the heart of it all.

Here are two key characteristics that are often overlooked, and that I think are essential if you want to build great documentation that will help you outmaneuver your competitors.

List of User Tasks and Links to Solutions

A key characteristic of excellent product and services documentation is the list of user tasks and links to the solutions. Even if you have parts and pieces of this elsewhere in your documentation, you need to have one section or module that lists every task and its links. Your listing should present tasks from a customer’s perspective, for example:

I want to do X

How do I …?

When you create a task list, it is critically important that you use terms and phrases geared to your target audiences, which means you have to know who your audiences are and how they think. So be prepared to don your research hat.

How many times have you tried to find something (in print or online) and failed, only to discover that the documentation did in fact contain the topic you were looking for, but the index entry or other references to that topic required you to use one specific search term or phrase? And which one? Oh, it’s guess-a-lot time? Isn’t that frustrating? Help make your corner of the world a little happier by using a variety of terms and phrases in indexes, and build your search engines so they display “close but not quite” matches. Help your users find those tasks.

Your goal is to create a superior experience that helps build a positive relationship between your company and its customers.

A Customer-centric Perspective

The second key characteristic of outstanding documentation is that menus, options and features are presented and explained from a customer-centric perspective.

After all, your customers will look at your product and its parts and ask: Why would I use this? To do what?

When you explain menus, options and features, be sure to:

  • Focus on real-world applications.
  • Provide links to detailed how-tos.

To create documentation that is all about the customer requires thought, research and effort. This is much more difficult than merely churning out material that is product-centric or developer-centric, and is probably one reason why too many companies still produce perfunctory and ineffective documentation that is, quite frankly, not all that useful to the end user.

Great Documentation Is an Asset

Whether your company is a high-tech geek enterprise or entirely non-technical, your business needs great documentation to win in the marketplace.

It’s part of paying attention to your customer, as well as leveraging what can be an important sales and revenue-generating tool.

So, how is your documentation doing? Is it working for you?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

How much copy have you written (and read!) for brochures, direct mail, catalogs, ads, and other marketing literature? The online and print worlds are awash in copy looking to grab your attention, hook your interest, create a need, list the benefits you will enjoy by purchasing the touted product and, finally, asking you for your order.

And you snap at the bait and go for it, only to realize … something’s missing.

Companies spend a lot of time and money trying to generate traffic and motivate people to buy their products. They get real creative. Flatter you. Use great visuals. Tell good stories. Pitch great messages. Get you to identify with the product image. So far so good.

But sometimes, when it comes right down to the moment of truth, the writers forget to include basic information that any potential customer absolutely must have. And every so often the editors don’t catch the missing details, either.

The problem is that those missing details can cost your company a sale. They can make the difference between a good customer experience and a bad one.

When you write marketing and sales copy, remember to proofread for the obvious details! Here are some examples:

  • Website and email addresses
  • Phone numbers, including toll-free
  • Company name, logo, street address
  • Directions or map
  • Store hours
  • Branch locations
  • Instructions for placing orders on the website, by email, by phone, or by mail
  • Accepted methods of payment
  • Product prices, guarantees and warranties
  • Shipping and service information

What other obvious details would you include?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

Without good documents that speak to the needs of your customers, a product is just a product. It’s like a car without gasoline: the potential for satisfying a need exists (transportation in the case of the car), but there is no way to realize the potential. To successfully market a product, your company needs to supply its customers with the “fuel” they need to learn how the product works and how to use it.

Let’s take a moment here to ask: what is a product? It is essentially a tool for solving a problem. It is something that lets you get the job done better, easier, cheaper, faster. A product satisfies a need or a want. The critical feature about a product is the benefit it renders. How much we benefit from something determines our perception of its value.

To give your customers a complete product, one they will value, requires that you communicate with your customers in a way that is meaningful to them. These communications, or documents, may take many forms: copy for print or digital media, blogs, e-publications, brochures, user manuals, computer-based courses, reference guides, data sheets – whatever your marketing mix calls for.

What benefits can you and your customers expect?

Well, the right documents give your customers a special key that they can use to open the door to all they need to know about your product. Nonproductive downtime is pared to a minimum. Customers get what they paid for. And the happier people are with your product, the more likely it is that they will buy from you again and recommend the product to their friends and colleagues.

If you intend to grow a company and build a market, remember to develop a document strategy for each of your products. Good written and visual communication will help your product gain acceptance in the marketplace. The investment is worth it if you mean business.

The right documents deliver. Without them, your company is just spinning its wheels, trying to travel with the fuel gauge on “empty.”  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas


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